EAST LAKE — In many ways, Andrew Long is a typical teen.
The East Lake High School Academy of Engineering junior enjoys playing baseball and hanging out with friends and family, and he wants to go to college and study architecture when he graduates.
Where the 16-year-old differs from many people his age is in his love for decorating the family home during the holidays, a hobby he picked up when he was 10.
“I saw my neighbors had all these cool Halloween decorations and I was jealous,” he said. “So, I had my dad take me to the store to buy a bunch of 99-cent tombstones and spider webs, and that’s when it started.”
Today, Andrew’s combined his engineering skills with a lifelong love of art and architecture to create a massive Halloween scene in the front yard of his home at 3425 Brian Road S. His neighborhood is across East Lake Road South from Pinellas County’s John Chesnut Sr. Park.
“I’ve always loved art and loved to draw, and I’ve always liked decorating for Halloween,” he said. “I also love engineering and building stuff, and this plays on all of that.”
This is an impressive collection of animatronic props that Andrew, with help from dad Mike, has created from scratch, including a rattling coffin, a twitching hangman and a ‘zombie breakout cage.’
Those motion-activated attractions are complemented by an array of detailed, handmade still props, including tombstones, skeletons and skull-adorned columns, all featured in the Longs’ front yard, which has been converted into a creepy cemetery complete with colorful lights, scary sound effects and spooky ground fog.
Mike Long, an IT specialist, said he is the equivalent of a “dental hygienist” to his son when they’re working in the garage. Andrew is unquestionably the driving force behind the spooky yet family friendly attraction, his father acknowledges.
“Everything you see, Andrew built top to bottom,” Mike said, pointing to an array of wiring, PVC piping, pneumatic cylinders, Styrofoam and other materials strewn about the garage. “I can’t even set it up by myself. So, when he goes away to college, he’s going to have to teach me or we won’t be having it.”
The Longs explained how the haunted yard has grown since they opened it to the public after visiting legendary “Mansion of the Macabre” of East Lake-area orthodontist Paul Duryea in 2015.
“The first year it was small, friends and family mainly,” Mike Long said. “The second year we had about 50 to 60 people come by, and then last year the word spread, and we must’ve had 300 people.”
“We’ve added columns and fencing and now the entire yard is done up like a cemetery, including 15 homemade tombstones,” Andrew added. “So, it’s a lot bigger this year.”
In addition to the new attractions, this year the Longs decided to turn the event into a fundraiser for Clearwater’s Homeless Empowerment Program.
“New for this year we decided to put a name to it, to have something to donate to and for people to have a reason to come,” Andrew said of the newly renamed Andrew Long’s Haunt for HEP. “I’ve volunteered at HEP before and I thought it would be a good cause.”
Mike Long said 100 percent of the donations, including cash, clothing and supplies, would go to the program. “People have already donated through our Facebook page,” he said. “The response has been great.”
As the Longs work feverishly to prep for this year’s haunt, scheduled for Oct. 27, 30 and 31, 6-10:30 p.m., Andrew is already planning new features he can add next year.
“I already have a couple of drawings I’ve been working on,” he said as he produced a rough but detailed sketch of a large mausoleum set he has earmarked for the front door alcove.
“The hardest thing is holding him back,” Mike Long said.
But Andrew’s father isn’t complaining about his son’s pastime, even if it is starting to become a year-round hobby.
“I hope we’re able to meet someone through this and he gets an internship designing attractions at Busch Gardens or Universal Studios or something,” Mike Long said. “It’s a great creative outlet for him, and it’s a great way for a father and son to spend some time together doing something unique.”
For more information on Andrew Long’s Haunt for Hep, visit Facebook.com/HauntForHEP.